Public school teacher shortage raises fears they will ‘run out of teachers’

“Historically, under supply has not been an issue and is not something we are in the practice of actively managing to the level that will be required to meet our future needs,” the presentation said. “It will be a challenge to take on more active stewardship of this system.”

‘If we don’t address supply gaps now, we will run out of teachers in the next five years.’

Confidential Department of Education document

As recently as July this year, briefing notes for Education Minister Sarah Mitchell before a meeting of education ministers said, “NSW is facing a large and growing shortage of teachers”.

NSW Teachers Federation president Angelo Gavrielatos said the government had hidden the true extent of the staffing crisis in schools. “It is going to get worse unless drastic action is taken,” he said. “Nobody should be in any doubt how serious this is for our children and teachers and the future quality of education in NSW.”

The federation is about to begin wage negotiations with the NSW government. It argues that the department will keep struggling to attract teachers unless it lifts salaries beyond the 2.5 per cent public service wage cap, and improves conditions.

“We have to make the profession more attractive through competitive salaries and realistic workloads if we are to fix the shortages and recruit a minimum of 11,000 more teachers required just to meet enrolment growth over the next decade,” Mr Gavrielatos said.

However, a spokesman for the NSW Department of Education said the information was outdated, the department had developed strategies to attract more teachers, and the government was on track to deliver its commitment to recruit an additional 4600 teachers over four years.

Ms Mitchell said the union’s claims of a looming teacher crisis were “blatantly misleading and self-serving”. She said the government’s approach to boosting teacher supply was backed by research, based on feedback from teachers.

“Ensuring we have the best teachers in the right place is not fixed by a fear campaign backed by bad data,” she said. “To find solutions we have asked the question what is best for students, and in this case, I worry the union is not asking the same one.”

The documents show the department has known of looming shortages since 2019, when an internal report from November warned the best-case scenario was an overall supply gap within three years (late 2022), but that was “a significant under-representation of the real problem”. By 2024, there would be a gap of 748 teachers in the public system alone, which would increase to 2425 by 2025, it predicted.

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Another internal report, dated March 2020, said there would not be enough teachers coming into the system beyond 2026. “This year [2020], available aggregate surplus supply [of teachers] is already tight … By 2024, surplus may be less than 2 per cent of the workforce, and by 2026, [there is] likely to be a real supply gap,” the report said.

One report said the salary ceiling and perceptions of a lack of career trajectories in teaching “may be impeding choices” to become a teacher. It also said falling pay relative to other professions had been a barrier to recruiting high-achieving students.

The documents proposed that targeting graduates while they are still at university, trying to attract professionals to a mid-career job change and increasing the number of permanent positions could boost numbers by about 300 a year.

The department’s spokesman said the government had committed $124.8 million over four years to a teacher supply strategy, which will change incentives for teachers to move to regions, attempt to make mid-career moves to teaching easier, and poach STEM teachers from overseas.

“The NSW Government is working on a number of initiatives to deliver a sustainable supply of quality teachers, including in critical subjects and locations, and is on track to deliver its commitment to recruit an additional 4600 teachers over four years,” he said.

The spokesman said NSW teacher salaries were competitive nationally and internationally, with those at the top of the salary scale paid $107,779. Beginning teachers are paid $72,263. Teaching is a four-year undergraduate degree or a two-year master’s degree.

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